PIAZZA DI SPAGNA
This beautiful piazza has been the destination of foreigners to Rome for centuries: most came as pilgrims and arrived in the north part of the city before finding lodgings. It was Pope Leo X who, from Piazza del Popolo (the first piazza inside the walls of Rome coming from the north), constructed the three roads leading south in the form of a trident across the Campo Marzio. The easternmost is Via del Babuino, Baboon Street(!), that leads directly to Piazza di Spagna.
Formed from two sharp triangles that meet at the points, the piazza is such a strange shape that it's hard to call it a "square". In fact a few centuries ago only the southern half was called Piazza di Spagna (after the Spanish embassy to the Holy See), the northern half was called Piazza di Francia (after the French embassy).
This French connection tells part of the story of the piazza, for during the time of Louis XIV of France, his advisor, Cardinal Mazarin, proposed a plan to build a monumental staircase up to the church of Trinita' de' Monti (inside Daniele da Volterra’s masterpieces), which featured an equestrian statue of the French king. The plan was obviously not popular with the papacy and it was shelved for a hundred years until finally built without the statue.
Facing from Trinità de’ Monti you can see a wonderful panorama with churches S. Carlo al corso and his majesty St. Peter.
The Spanish Steps (as the Scalinata della Trinita' dei Monti is known in English) are a majestic series of three flights of steps that lead up to the impressive double-belltowered church (before which stands an obelisk). This complex can best be seen from far down Via dei Condotti. In early summer they are sometimes completely covered with flowers of many colours making a delightful sight. In summer the myriad of tourists who come here often just sit on the steps to soak in the atmosphere and watch the street sellers and the charicature artists who work at the foot of the steps plying their skills.
An intriguing fountain sits not far from the bottom of the steps that always has people around it puzzling over its peculiarities. This is la Fontana della Barcaccia which is set very low, almost at street level, in order to function with the low water pressure that arrives there. But why a fountain in the shape of a small boat? In 1588 Rome suffered one of its not infrequent inundations when the Tevere can no longer hold all the water that washes down the river. It was devestating and many people lost their homes. When the waters subsided there was left a small flat-bottomed boat in the mud (which had been used to rescue people and move possessions), a symbol of the efforts to survive the floods. It was this that inspired Pietro Bernini, and his son Gian Lorenzo, to construct this wonderful fountain.
In the southern part of the piazza there is a column that was erected in 1856 to commemorate the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed by Pius IX. The column, found under a monastery in 1777, is topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary, and rests on a base that features statues of the prophets Moses, David, Isaiah and Ezekiel. The pope comes here every year on December 8th to celebrate the Immaculate Conception.
The column stands in front of the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide which features a facade that faces the piazza by Gianlorenzo Bernini and, down the street to the right, another marvelous facade designed (1662) by Francesco Borromini that displays those elements consistently employed by Borromini to maintain fluidity of his buildings: where one is used to straight walls he uses gentle curves to break the line, windows of varying shapes, pilasters to break up the length. This is a narrow street and walking along it will bring out the beauty of Borromini's work.
At the end of Propaganda street you meet the church of S. Andrea delle Fratte. Inside Bernini’s famous angels, upside Borromini’s bell tower and unfinished dome. Also to see the closter.
Just in the corner between Propaganda and Mercede street a little bust of Bernini looks at you and seems unhappy to be dominated by his rival’s masterpieces.
Also at this end of the piazza is a very discretely decorated MacDonald's, designed by the great Ignazio Signoriello, so discrete that if it weren't for the droves of people who go there you would never notice this little corner of America! When the concession first started up there was quite a reaction from certain elements of the Roman community, who demonstrated outside giving away free plates of pasta. It's now an integral part of the scene, as are numerous other concessions.